Probably Influenced By That Magazine He Doesn't Subscribe To, Say Unnamed Law Enforcement Officials, Maybe


The New York Times has an odd story up attempting to pry into the weird belief systems of murderous nut-sandwich Jared Loughner. It amounts to: A) Anecdotes of crazy/erratic behavior. B) Extrapolated political theories lacking a single strand of evidentiary connective tissue, aside from "that thing he said sounds like that thing other people said." C) Transition back to erratic behavior.

Here's what I mean, focusing on the B) part:

Some people who study right-wing militia groups and those who align themselves with the so-called patriot movement said Mr. Loughner's comments on subjects like the American currency and the Constitution, which he posted online in various video clips, were strikingly similar in language and tone to the voices of the Internet's more paranoid, extremist corners.

In the text on one of the videos, for example, Mr. Loughner states, "No! I won't pay debt with a currency that's not backed by gold and silver." He also argues that "the current government officials are in power for their currency" and he uses his videos — he never appears on screen, just displaying text — to talk about becoming a treasurer of "a new money system."

The position, for instance, that currency not backed by a gold or silver standard is worthless is a hallmark of the far right and the militia movement, said Mark Potok, who directs research on hate groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"That idea is linked closely to the belief among militia supporters that the Federal Reserve is a completely private entity engaged in ripping off the American people," Mr. Potok said.

But Mr. Loughner also posits in his Web postings the idea that the government is seeking to control people through rules and structure of grammar and language.

This is similar to the position of David Wynn Miller, 62, a former tool-and-die welder from Milwaukee who describes himself as a "Plenipotentiary-judge" seeking to correct, through a mathematical formula, what he sees as the erroneous and manipulative use of grammar and language worldwide. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Mr. Miller a conspiracy theorist, some of whose positions have been adopted by militias in general.

"The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar," Mr. Loughner said in a video. He also defiantly asserted, "You control your English grammar structure."

Mr. Miller, in an interview, said the argument sounded familiar. "He's probably been on my Web site, which has been up for about 11 years," Mr. Miller said. "The government does control the schools, and the schools determine the grammar and language we use. And then it is all reinforced by newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and everything we do in society."

Aaaaand CUT! A few notes:

1) Quoting the SPLC as an impartial arbiter on right-wing extremism is about as credible as quoting Brent Bozell as a fair-minded assessor of media content. This is not one of those, oh-the-ACLU-is-evil knee-jerk kind of observations; seriously, read up on the subject before either quoting from the organization or taking its findings as Gospel.

2) As someone more familiar than your average NYTer with gold-buggery complaints about the Federal Reserve and the Debauched Dollar, my personal testimony is that the phrase, "the current government officials are in power for their currency," if it's the "hallmark" of anything, is of…a crazy dude just stone rambling about shit. If there is evidence of this guy sounding like a "Paultard" on currency, that ain't it. Neither is the notion that the Fed is "a completely private entity," which is a formulation I have now heard from exactly one source, the SPLC.

3) It is indeed possible that Loughner was biting the rhymes of David Wynn Miller when it comes to government "seeking to control people through rules and structure of grammar and language." But the only evidence of that in this article comes from authorial assertaion that his views were "similar," and, um, from David Wynn Miller. There have been, I am pretty confident, more than just two people, or one ideological disposition, that have reached a similar conclusion.

This next piece of the B) section is even less convincing:

Law enforcement officials said they suspected that Mr. Loughner also might have been influenced by such things as American Renaissance, a conservative monthly magazine that describes itself as "America's premiere publication of racial-realist thought."

"We think that white Americans have an entirely legitimate reason to want to remain a majority in the United States because when a neighborhood or a school or an organization changes in demographics and becomes majority black or Hispanic, it is no longer the same institution or neighborhood," said Jared Taylor, its editor.

He added, "It may be shocking to hear something stated so bluntly."

Mr. Taylor said that his organization had searched its subscriber list going back 20 years and lists of those who had attended the group's conferences since 1994, but that there was no record of a Mr. Loughner.

But even as Mr. Loughner was exploring the outer boundaries of extremist philosophy, his life at school, which some acquaintances said was very important to him, was unraveling….

Uh, WTF was that? Seriously, we have unnamed "law enforcement officials," we have no explanation for why said law enforcement officials sought or were granted anonymity, we have the once-removing device of "such things as," we have no direct quotes showing that the unnamed officials mentioned American Renaissance by name, then we have–whoops!–denial that he was ever a subscriber in the first place. Followed by an absolutely evidence-free transition of "even as Mr. Loughner was exploring the outer boundaries of extremist philosophy." That is some stinky-ass journalism, New York Times, even if all those dots get connected at some later date.

(And no, he has never subscribed to Reason. )

The question of correlation/causation/responsibility of media messages vis-a-vis violent acts is a truly interesting subject, one that 99 percent of pundits are very busy at the moment trying not to engage with anything approaching seriousness or consistency. Two people who buck that foul trend are Jack Shafer and our own Jesse Walker.

Oh, BTW, I've buried the lede:

"The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means that not only threats, but hate speech and other inciteful speech is much more readily available to individuals than quite clearly it was eight or 10 or 15 years ago," [FBI Director Robert] Mueller said. "That absolutely presents a challenge for us, particularly when it results in what would be lone wolves or lone offenders undertaking attacks."

UPDATE: More on the supposed AmRen connection at FoxNews.com:

According to a law enforcement memo based on information provided by DHS and obtained by Fox News, Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, may have been influenced by a pro-white racist organization that publishes an anti-immigration newsletter.

No direct connection, but strong suspicion is being direceted at American Renaissance, an organization that Loughner mentioned in some of his internet postings and federal law enforcement officials are investigating Loughner's possible links to the organization.